Diagnosis and management of esophageal perforations

R K White, D M Morris
American Surgeon 1992, 58 (2): 112-9
Esophageal perforation remains a difficult diagnostic and management problem. Recommendations regarding treatment remain controversial. A 15-year experience with perforation of the esophagus from all causes was reviewed at Louisiana State University and Veterans Administration, Medical Centers (Shreveport, LA). The majority of the injuries involved the thoracic esophagus (28 or 54%), followed by the cervical (21 or 40%), and the intraabdominal esophagus (3 or 6%). Iatrogenic causes constituted most of the injuries (52%), followed by external trauma (23%), barogenic rupture (15%), and ingested foreign bodies (10%). Diatrizoate methylglucamine 66 per cent, sodium diatrizoate 10 per cent (Gastrografin; Squibb, Princeton, NJ) contrast studies and flexible esophagoscopy were performed in 44 and 22 patients, respectively. In the cervical esophagus, contrast studies were more sensitive and specific than endoscopy (P less than .01), but both studies were equally effective as diagnostic methods in thoracic perforations. Cervical perforations were treated with either drainage alone (7 patients) or primary repair with drainage (14 patients) with an operative mortality of 4.8 per cent. Several procedures were used in thoracic perforations, which carried a mortality of 36 per cent and were more lethal than cervical tears (P less than 0.2). Any thoracic esophageal perforation treated more than 24 hours after the onset of symptoms, irrespective of what procedure was used, was associated with a significantly higher mortality than if operated on earlier (P less than .001). Five patients with perforated carcinomas were treated by esophageal resection with no mortality. Significantly higher mortality was seen with a delay in diagnosis, thoracic perforations, and Boerhaave's Syndrome. A subset of patients with perforated carcinomas may benefit from esophageal resection with delayed reconstruction.

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